Unequal Treatment, Fairness Perceptions, and the Rural Backlash Against Carbon Taxation

Speaker: David Hope (KCL) with Julian Limberg and Yves Steinebach

Why is there such strong opposition to carbon taxes in rural areas? In this paper, we develop the literature on fairness perceptions and the rural backlash against carbon taxation by focusing on procedural fairness concerns. We argue that perceptions of unequal treatment by the state (especially around access to public transport) lead people living in rural areas to be less supportive of carbon taxes, because they believe that carbon taxes unfairly punish those that have already been disadvantaged by the state. We carry out a survey with a representative sample of around 3,000 respondents from the UK to test our argument. First, we provide observational evidence on urban–rural differences in unequal treatment beliefs, fairness perceptions and carbon tax support. Second, we test our argument causally through an information-provision survey experiment, where we show the treatment group information on the highly geographically unequal distribution of public spending on transport in the UK. For rural respondents, the treatment significantly increases perceptions of unequal treatment and carbon tax unfairness, leading to a substantial reduction in support for carbon taxation of around 10 percentage points. Taken together, our results provide strong evidence in support of our argument.